Fandom: FF7 (AU)
Word count: 2711
Summary/Prompt: Instead of waiting to breed new Ancients, Hojo decides to simply create a new one from Aerith and a terrorist who remembers more than she should.
A/N: This is for illumynare, who won my help_japan auction. :D She made an incredibly generous bid, and as someone actually living in Japan, I am extremely grateful. Also, I'd ask that if you enjoyed this fic, to please consider donating to $5 or so to a charity. It doesn't really matter which one, but it'd be a way for the spirit of help_japan--and all of the help_* auctions--to keep going.
This is an AU fic. I don't actually like writing AUs, believe it or not, but that's mainly because my internal nitpicker is kind of evil. This means that if I do write an AU, I more write "butterfly effect"/"road not taken" style AUs, in which a single choice is made differently, and everything flows out from there. In this case, the "road not taken" comes from Tifa making a different decision in the hospital in Midgar than the one she actually made pre-game.
The prologue is written in a slightly unusual style for me; blame the Haruki Murakami influence (ahaha, oh boy, is there an influence). ^^;; There's a stylistic reason for it, though, and hopefully that will be clear by the time you get through the whole thing. There's a method to my madness, I promise. (Likewise, the titles and the epigraphs will all make a loooot more sense once the whole thing is finished. Method to my madness, honest.)
There are, duh, much more extended notes, but for the sake of brevity, I'm cutting them from the intros to the fic sections--if you're interested in all the influences (from Murakami to Japanese mythology to Kabbalah to the Qliphoth to numerology to Holocaust studies to a Finnish band), I'll be posting them separately later as an Ultimania. :D Also, thanks to peeka_chan for the beta! :D
[If You Could Rewrite the Past]
-村上春樹、1Q84 Book 1
The day her father dies is the day Nibelheim burns to the ground.
The day Nibelheim burns to the ground is the day Tifa Lockheart almost dies.
She knows how close she's come when she opens her eyes and wishes very much that she hadn't, because with consciousness comes pain.
"Don't move, child," Zangan says quickly, and casts Cure on her...and it isn't enough. Cure was usually more than good enough for training injuries, but the way the Cure feels like it has barely made a dent in the wrongness of her stomach tells her how close she must have been to dying--and still is.
Her stomach is bandaged, the vest she had been wearing gone and the rest of her clothes are stained with dried blood, and she wonders for a moment what had happened to her hat before the pain makes her drift out again.
When she opens her eyes and can at last keep them open, Zangan is nowhere to be seen. There is only an older woman, plump and greying, checking the contents of the IV in Tifa's arm.
"Zangan--" Tifa tries to say, but "Dad--" comes out instead, and she remembers, horribly, the last time she had seen her father. She pushes the image of his broken body away as quickly as she can, before she can think about it more and remember more than that involuntary flash before her eyes of her father on the ground. Now isn't the time, not yet, and if she dares think about it for even an instant, she'll be in tears. "My teacher...the one who brought me...where?" she says, feeling stupid and confused and desperate. She doesn't even know where she is, let alone where her teacher is.
What she does know, however, is that her father is dead. The one thing she wishes she didn't know, she knows all too well.
The nurse is kind, in her way. "You're in a hospital in Midgar. You had a pretty near-miss, but you'll be OK now."
"Where is--where is Zangan? The man who brought me here?"
The nurse frowns. "I'm not sure, honey. You've been here a good few weeks now. No one's been in to see you," the nurse says with a pitying smile.
Never in her life has Tifa felt so alone.
She feels the tears coming, and she doesn't try to stop them at all when the nurse leaves to get a doctor.
She wouldn't have been able to stop them anyway.
She cries every night for the next week--crying for her father, for her home, and for herself.
They have told her she can leave soon; that she will be well enough to go in maybe another week or so. It took her a long time to recover, even with the Cures--Zangan's had held her together, but it took time for the body to recover. Cures may have seemed like magic, but they weren't--they were just hitting a Haste on the body's healing itself, and too much would exhaust you. It was a price you paid later, when you finally got to rest and you slept like the dead and when you woke up you ate everything in sight.
She had known the day was coming, but...but she hadn't wanted to think about, or had even been able to think about it--about what she would do when she left. But now, laying in the hospital bed with nothing, she realizes that soon she can go...but has nowhere to go to.
She realizes, then, that she has two choices--she can stay in Midgar, alone, and try to rebuild herself and her life and hope to somehow find Cloud in this city, or she can go after Zangan.
The sting from being left--being abandoned--makes tears prickle at her eyes, and she blinks quickly to stop them, and looks out the window, seeking a distraction.
There is no sky here--only the dark, metallic plate and the artificial lights mimicking the sun, and in a flash, rage fills her.
ShinRa built that--ShinRa. A company so drunk on itself and caring so little about people that they blocked out the sun. It makes her feel sick. Her stomach clinches, and pain flares through her.
She hasn't healed, not completely, and it almost feels like she never will, that her belly and her heart will always ache like this.
There is a knock on the door, and a nurse, the one from the day she woke up, comes in, carrying a small bag. "Feeling any better?" she asks, and Tifa gives a faint nod as she tries to compose her face.
"I asked around a bit," the nurse says brightly, and Tifa stares at her blankly. "About the person who brought you here. He apparently left this for you before he left," she says, and hands the bag to Tifa.
As soon as it is in her hands, Tifa begins to shake, and she clutches it to her tightly. It is something real; something there and something solid. She does not know what to do, or where to go, or how she will survive.
She's never been alone before, and pain expands in her chest. Everything she had, everything she knew, everything she loved, is gone, and she has no idea what to do.
Something twists; the pain morphs into something far more comfortable, something that she is more familiar with, and reaches for--anger. The things in her life are not gone; they were taken. They were stolen away from her, and that anger intermingles with the feeling of loss, and her loneliness is at the core of it.
She decides, then, what she has to do--go after Zangan, beg him to--please, don't leave me alone again--teach her more, just a bit more, until she can stand on her own and take ShinRa down for what they have stolen away from her.
She doesn't want to be alone, and this is all she has left.
She leaves before the doctors want her to, but she knows the longer she stays, the harder it will be for her to find Zangan, and the easier it will be to just stay in ShinRa's city.
She had once dreamed about going to Midgar--Midgar was this magical place, the big city, larger than life and far larger than her tiny little home, but now, the longer she stays, the sicker she feels and the more she longs to be anywhere else--to see with her own eyes what ShinRa has done to her home, to know. The decision to go, to find Zangan and beg him to teach her, has made her hate being here and hate everything it means, and hate Midgar with every passing instant. She decided to go, and go she will, and the longer she stays, the more angry she becomes at the injury keeping her here, and at ShinRa.
And so she leaves that night, when it still hurts her to walk.
She is fine with that, because it reminds her how weak she still is, and how much she still has to learn, and how much there still is for Zangan to teach her. She vows, disgusted with herself, that she will never be in this weak position again.
And she vows that one day, she will return to Midgar. She will return, and destroy it, the same as ShinRa destroyed her home, raze it somehow until there is nothing of ShinRa left.
And so she leaves, with nothing but a small bag, of things Zangan had left for her before he left, and that gives her the courage to go look for him--he has left her, but not completely abandoned her, and she will take that tiny sliver of something. She doesn't have enough for what she knows will be terrifyingly high medical bills, so she leaves before she can even be told of them, and she almost feels guilty about it when she slips out in the middle of the night through a window. If she were staying in Midgar, she would have found a job, found some way to pay for the procedures and efforts that saved her life. But she is not staying and this is ShinRa's town; she owes none of them anything, because she never should have been there to begin with.
The night is warm, and she lets out a breath of relief when she is out from under the Plate and the moon and stars are finally overhead.
And then, with a small look back at ShinRa's proud city of lights and Plates and rot, a city that stands while her home is nothing but ruins of ash, she takes off away at a run, and runs until she bleeds.
It takes her two months to find Zangan. He is far from Midgar, far from the entire Visgrad region, further south than she has ever been in her life. It is hard for her to bear, this heat even so late in the year when the leaves should be beginning to turn red and the air should have an arid nip, and half the time she feels as if the weight of this air, laden with humidity like a storm that never comes, will suffocate her.
She hates it here, and it makes the joy she feels at finding Zangan--at finding something that is familiar--all the stronger.
She had thought, when she saw him, that her first words would be "Long time no see, Master Zangan," not the blurted and young, "Why did you leave me?" that they are, and she would be ashamed of them were she not so angry and desperate. She doesn't understand why he left her, why she could not have waited until she was awake, even as she clutched the bag he had left her every night when she slept. It had been both a life line and a weight: he had left her, but he had also left her this. She had thought she was fine, but when she lays eyes on, the relief is almost instantly tainted with all the feelings of abandonment she has denied until that moment.
Instantly eyes are on them, and Zangan, after a moment of surprise that is masked almost too fast for Tifa to identify, shakes his head.
"Not here, come with me," he says quickly, and leads her to the quiet square in the middle of this humid town, and they sit beneath a tree that offers a blessed bit of shade.
Now, Zangan looks at her, and his shoulders slump and his eyes close for an instant before he smiles. "I knew you'd be all right. You're a tough girl. You wouldn't die so easily."
She had always been proud when Zangan would smile at her, but now it makes her angry. "How did you know? You just left me!" she says.
"Because I knew you'd live," he says flatly, and Tifa wonders what kind of answer that is supposed to be.
"How was I supposed to live? I survived, but...what am I supposed to do?"
He gave her a hard look, one with a touch of disgust. He had given her that look sometimes in training, when she would falter and complain, at the beginning, that it was too much, and on some level, it shames her.
"You are alive, more than can be said for many," he says, and she is stung. "Surviving is one thing, but now is the hard part. And you can do it."
"How?!" she says, needing an answer. The only answer she has for herself is to grow stronger, to fight, but now, with Zangan so cold, she has no idea what to do.
"Why did you come after me?" he asks, and she knows before she can ask that he is going to deny her. Zangan only teaches the students he choses, and she can tell, by the way he speaks, by the shuttered look on his face, that he is going to tell her no, and seeing that route crumble before her eyes sends waves of panic through her.
"What do you mean, 'why'?! What else could I have done?" she says desperately. "Where else could I have gone?"
"You could have stayed in Midgar and built a new life there. I took you there for a reason, because it was so big that it would be easier for you to live unnoticed there. You could slip into a new life."
"I don't want a new life!" she yells. "ShinRa took my life! They took away my home, they took away my life! They took everything I had away from me!" she says, and the rage was all she had left. "How am I supposed to just start a new life and let them get away with this!?"
When Zangan speaks, the words strike her to her core.
"Forget this, Tifa Lockheart. You are strong, girl, but even you are not as strong as this," Zangan says, and there is something oddly sad in his voice. Zangan is usually so strong, and so defiant, that hearing the defeated tone he uses is a shock. "Your old life is gone, and there is nothing you can do about it. Vanish somewhere and never speak of Nibelheim again. Do this, if you wish to live."
"But--" she begins, and Zangan's words silence her again.
"Do you forget I am from Wutai, child?" he says sharply. "I could tell you the names of many places in Wutai that no longer exist, but were at least granted to right to have once existed. But the place where I was born..." He falls silent for a long moment before he speaks again. "There is a reason why I wander the world teaching. It is because my home is a place that according to ShinRa never existed; a village that never existed so it was never razed to the ground and its inhabitants never slaughtered because they were never born. I am from nowhere because it is a 'nowhere' that was erased from history and the world, and I wander because my home is a place that existed yet never did. I wander and teach all that remains of a school that was never developed at a monastery that never was in a place that never existed."
Tifa falls silent, stunned, and Zangan turns away, scanning the horizon. "I've wasted enough time here and it is not safe for me to stay in a single place too long. The same is true for you," he says and gives her a sharp, pointed stare. "Especially if you dare to remember. Go," he ends, the word like a punch, and all Tifa can manage is a soft whisper that is pathetic and desperate even to her own ears.
"I'm not strong enough," she says. "Take me with you. Teach me. Please," she says, and bows bent double, biting her lip and her eyes squeezed shut. After what feels like too long, Zangan sighs.
Relief floods through her, and when he turns to walk away and gestures over his shoulder for her to follow, she does.
"You want to rewrite the past?"
"You don't want to?
She shook her head. "Not even in the slightest. I don't want to rewrite the past, or history, or any of that. What I'd want to rewrite is where I am now. The present."
-Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 Book 1
Part 1: One Set of Memories